High Expectations: Nancy Aton uses medical marijuana to help patients

Dr. Nancy Aton has been licensing patients for medical marijuana use since 2011 and has been at Genesis Natural Medicine Center since 2012. (Holly Harris/Submitted)

By Laura Latzko

Dr. Nancy Aton says medical marijuana is a catchall for improving health.

Aton, who has been at Genesis Natural Medicine Center since 2012, has witnessed it improve conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, chronic nausea, Crohn’s disease, severe menstrual cramps, endometriosis and PTSD.

“It really helps with chronic pain and helps people sleep,” says Aton, a 38-year naturopathic medicine practitioner.

“It can help with anxiety, which is a tie-in with chronic pain. A lot of people get anxious about their pain, and that just makes their pain worse because it tightens up muscles, decreases blood flow to the area that’s painful. So, I’m trying to stop that loop. THC specifically — one of the cannabinoids in marijuana — helps us not think about the pain. It takes away our focus on the pain, which can make pain worse.”

Aton has been licensing patients for medical marijuana use since 2011. During the certification process, patients need to show that they are undergoing treatment, such as therapy or psychiatry for PTSD, to be eligible for a medical marijuana card.

“People who come in, they have to show evidence that they have a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana,” Aton says.

“The card is now good for two years.”

Led by Dr. Michael Uzick, Genesis Natural Medicine Center offers nutritional, homeopathic and botanical treatments for disease prevention, pain management and overall wellness, including naturopathic oncology, nutritional IV therapies, acupuncture and massage therapy.

Aton and other Genesis providers often work together to help patients. She says marijuana is one of the main botanicals she uses to treat patients with chronic pain issues or to ween them off opioids.

Chronic pain can disrupt sleep. Edibles, she says, work great for this.

“They last six to eight hours or longer if you take an edible that has CBD and THC at least an hour before you want to go to sleep,” she says.

“A lot of people are so happy that they can now sleep throughout the night.”

Aton often pairs medical marijuana with other botanicals for pain and/or anxiety management, including turmeric, boswellia, fish oil, vitamin D, valerian root, holy basil, ginger, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower or chamomile.

Patients, such as those with rheumatoid arthritis, need to be on prescription medications. Aton pairs naturopathic treatments with these medications to best serve the patient.

“Whatever gives the person the most relief, as long as it is prescribed properly, is what I think is best,” Aton says.

Sometimes physical therapy is needed to help with mobility and pain management. She tries to take a holistic approach with all her patients.

She encourages them to eat an anti-inflammatory, mostly plant-based diet with less sugar; more plants that grow above ground; less red meat; more chicken, fish and whole grains; more nuts and seeds; and more whole grains.

She also emphasizes the importance of regular exercise. Aton advises people dealing with chronic pain — especially those with arthritis — to be active at times of the day when their pain is at a minimum.

“A lot of people in pain, they wake up with a lot of stiffness in the morning,” Aton says.

“We want them to move when they can or try to start moving. Sometimes, that stiffness will go away. Swimming is a great exercise for chronic musculoskeletal pain because you’re getting rid of the gravity component. Doing aerobics in a pool can really help to strengthen the muscles without the increased pain because you aren’t stomping on the ground or a hard surface.”

She says stretching and doing activities such as yoga can also help patients experiencing chronic pain. Habits like smoking cigarettes can increase pain, along with weight, too.

“People who are obese have much more pain on their joints because all of that weight is pressing down on the joints,” Aton says.

“So, it’s important to try to lose some weight, at least 15 to 20 pounds to start with.

“It takes at least 40 days, and we try to recommend small steps so that you get that habit ingrained on a daily basis, like, say, exercise or movement. Just try something for 1 minute, but do that thing every single day so that you get that habit ingrained. Or, if you are trying to eat healthier, just take out chips and replace it with a cup of blueberries.”

Aton says that while many patients with chronic conditions may still experience some level of pain, lifestyle changes and botanical treatments can help.

“I’m not saying that anything is going to totally taking the pain away, but it can diminish the pain quite a bit,” Aton says

Genesis Natural Medicine Center

3920 N. Campbell Avenue